|A painting of Andrew Jackson late in his life,
on display in the Hermitage Museum.
I arrived in Nashville a day earlier than I needed to for a gig that fell through, so when the brown historical marker sign presented the opportunity to visit the Andrew Jackson Hermitage (Presidential Home & Museum), the history buff in me couldn’t say, “No.”
The legacy of the Jackson presidency is one that leaves a lot of distaste in my mouth. One reason is his Indian Removal Act and the resulting Trail of Tears, which affected one branch of my ancestry in powerfully negative ways. The legacy of yet another slave-owning president is another.
And yet, as an historian, I’ve always argued that people should be evaluated in the context of their lives and experiences. So, once again I was surprised to find some affinity and empathy for Jackson’s life and situation.
In the context of his situation (being unsuccessful in his first presidential campaign, after winning both the popular and electoral college votes, but losing in the House of Representatives) I understand the motivation to “get the word out” for the 2nd try, which resulted in his running the first presidential “campaign.”
Viewing his candidacy as a “democratic” candidate (one of the people), versus the eastern establishment which favored “republican” government (keeping the “unwashed masses” out of the political process), helps me to bring into better relief some conversations I’ve had with friends in recent years.
“We want to be sure to have INFORMED voters” is a justification for the current attempts at voter suppression. Well, that IS a republican virtue.
“We want to be sure that EVERYONE has a chance to participate in the electoral process” is the argument for those who seek broader voter registration and electoral participation. And that IS a democratic virtue.
The extent to which the Capital Letter Party versions of these virtues embrace, embody and live up to these virtues is not what I am debating here, I’m interested in the philosophical underpinnings that are behind the virtues.
People who seek to limit the pool of eligible voters are hoping to have greater influence over the smaller number by being able to control not only the message but the audience.
|Beautiful shade tree on the grounds of the Hermitage, resisting
the surrender of all of its colorful leaves in early November.
This appears to be very similar to what I discovered when doing my undergraduate historical research. I began reading William F. Buckley’s columns in The National Review. It became obvious to me that he arrived at his positions clearly (and cleverly) because he was careful to define the playing field to the advantage of his opinions. And then, he played ONLY on that field.
As one who was raised in a small town, far from the centers of influence, with little or no expectation of ever being able to enter or even access them, this felt like being hazed in high school. I wasn’t now, and could never hope to be a part of the in-crowd. But my response, rather than seeking to ingratiate myself and attempt to enter this elite group, was to conclude that the very definitions themselves, while clever, did not accurately mesh with the messy world as it is. So I dispensed with them. I may not be able to offer an articulate answer to what appears to be a well-reasoned argument in the heat of the debate, but I am less invested in winning debate points than in probing the assumptions behind the arguments.
I come down on the side of recognizing that while the masses of people can behave like sheep, sometimes led to the slaughter by their own decisions to choose options which are against their interests, that I still trust them MORE than I do those who feel that their enlightened opinions are more important or valuable than those held by ordinary people.
Therefore, when I re-evaluate an historical figure that I’ve previously concluded is distasteful, I find that I am re-evaluating myself and find both things from which to repent and things for which to give thanks.